The share of adult New Yorkers who smoke cigarettes, which fell from 21.5 percent in 2002 to a low of 14 percent in 2010, continues to rise, reaching 16.1 percent last year, according to survey data released yesterday. The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene blames cuts to its tobacco control programs, which received $7.1 million last fiscal year, about half the budget in fiscal year 2009. I am skeptical. To the extent that government policies help explain the drop in smoking during the Bloomberg administration, I suspect that crushing taxes and severe restrictions on the locations where people are allowed to light up played a more important role than the health department's "public-awareness campaigns."
In any case, if the city's public health officials are genuinely concerned about the uptick in smoking, why did they support a crackdown on a much safer alternative? Last year New York became one of the first major cities to treat electronic cigarettes like their combustible competitors, despite a complete lack of evidence that they pose a hazard to bystanders. By forcing vapers out into the cold, rain, or heat along with smokers, the city council eliminated an important advantage that helped made e-cigarettes an appealing option for people thinking about switching.
"Instead of supporting their use to help people quit smoking," notes Jeff Stier of the National Center for Public Policy Research, "the New York City public health establishment spends resources demonizing e-cigarettes and making them less appealing to potential switchers." The main rationale offered by New York City Health Commissioner Thomas Farley and other supporters of the vaping ban—that e-cigarettes might confuse people because they look like the real thing—was worse than frivolous, sacrificing the interests (and potentially the lives) of actual adult smokers for the sake of imaginary children who might suddenly decide smoking is cool after all.
Reason TV covers opposition to the vaping ban: